The holiday season is about to provide us a break in our usual routine, but for those of us living with fibromyalgia, that can upset our apple cart. The very nature of fibromyalgia is its unpredictability, which means we must pace with vigilance. How can we use critical thinking, planning, and problem solving to meet our goals this holiday?
1) Manage time effectively. The first step to maximizing our time and energy is to evaluate how we managed our time last year. Are there things we planned well that we should continue and other things we could have managed better? For instance, was time spent shopping for family, planning meals, caring for children or parents balanced? To avoid the unwanted consequences of stress, we can:
- Estimate how long a project has taken in the past and include provisions for known roadblocks.
- Take rest periods. Set a timer if necessary.
- Maximize stress management techniques like T’ai Chi, meditation or other tools known to minimize the fibromyalgia stress response.
- Employ manageable segments of time and be realistic based on previous experiences.
A realistic plan helps us avoid procrastination, overdoing and unnecessary anxiety.
2) Keep to a bedtime ritual. Dysfunctional or not, seven hours of sleep is still better than two hours. Avoid the temptation to finish something before going to bed—back to tip number one. Our body needs rest to boost our immune system, which is under assault during the holidays and the flu season. SLUMBER is a helpful acronym for sleep hygiene.
Schedule bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night.
Limit physical activity during late evening to avoid surges in neuro-chemicals that interfere with sleep.
Use comfort measures such as sleeping in a dark, quiet room. Currently, there are reports that weighted blankets can help us. Hmmm, maybe this is something to go on our gift list.
Meditate or pray.
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Breathe. Practicing focused breathing provides relaxation for our brain and body.
Eliminate food, alcohol, carbonated beverages and large amounts of water before going to bed. This is not only good sleep hygiene, it is particularly important since so many of us have irritable bowel syndrome or GERD. Holiday temptations are everywhere.
Remember nothing—clear your mind of tomorrow’s list by writing it down in your journal or putting it on your calendar. I have lost sleep over things that resolved on their own without any intervention by me. Now, I turn my phone off at 8 p.m. and my family and friends know it. It will wait for tomorrow.
3) Monitor our surroundings. Many of us are known to lose perception of where our body is in the space around us, referred to as a loss of proprioception. I have plenty of bruises to prove it and I imagine you may too. This loss of “proprioception” heightens our need to monitor our surroundings as we decorate or attend a holiday celebrations. Christmas trees, Menorahs, Kwanzaa candles, decorative statues, gifts, and spaces crowded with things and people can be a hazard for us.
4) Avoid known triggers. If there is something that turns our world upside down when we do it, we have options.
- Don’t do it.
- Solicit help.
- Negotiate by trading tasks for what we can do.
- Be aware of past roadblocks. For instance, if standing for prolonged periods while making holiday goodies or getting up and down on a ladder or foot stool to decorate causes lingering negative effects, consider plausible alternatives.
Back to tip one, plan for extra time to manage trigger avoidance.
5) Practice good health measures through the holiday season.
- Stay hydrated. It’s easy to forget we need more water when drinking holiday spirits and carbonated beverages that frequent the holiday table.
- Minimize the effects of cold exposure on muscles by doing warm up and stretching exercises.
- Keep dry skin, eyes, and nasal membranes moisturized to minimize the effects of cold weather and cold viruses.
- Eat foods you know you tolerate.
- Dress for comfort.
- Take pleasure in soothing activities, such as listening to holiday music or sitting by a fireplace while drinking a warm cup of herbal tea, cider, or hot chocolate. Appreciate the season of fellowship and all it has to offer us mentally and spiritually. Focusing on what we have lifts our spirits, promotes balance, and minimizes the effects fibromyalgia has on our immune system, our pain processing, fatigue, and cognitive problems.
So this year as we confront the holiday hustle and bustle, gather with friends and family, practice rituals and traditions, and enjoy the feelings only the holidays can bring. Let’s do better, and let’s pace through the perils of fibro together.
Celeste Cooper, RN, is a frequent contributor to ProHealth. She is an advocate, writer and published author, and a person living with chronic pain. Celeste is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, and Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain (a four book series). She spends her time enjoying her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at CelesteCooper.com.